They used to think of green spaces, water, air and civic infrastructure. Our cities don't make sense anymore.
I know we have come a long way
We're changing day-to-day
But tell me: where do the children play?
-- Cat Stevens
That old number by folk singer Cat Stevens turned Yusuf Islam comes to mind this week as Delhi and Mumbai battle different kinds of environmental and administrative issues. Suddenly, Delhi-ites have woken up to the reality that at least 14,000 trees were to be felled in the heart of the capital city to make way for housing complexes for government officials, and, hold your breath, parking for 70,000 cars!
In Delhi, the tree fiasco is another occasion for the Aam Aadmi Party government and its favourite target, Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, to play a tu-tu, mai-mai game of exchanging blame even as the AAP (mercifully) joins a loud chorus of citizens trying to bring attention to the felling of trees amid one of the worst heat waves in recent memory.
The Comptroller and Auditor General notes that Delhi's Tree Authority, responsible for preservation and census of trees, met just once between 2014 and 2017, while it is supposed to meet at least once in three months.
Overall, it seems to me that both the Delhi tree crisis and the Mumbai rains reflect a case of misplaced priorities in governance. We have had 27 years of liberalised economic growth and there seems to be an obsession with Western-style urban growth and Chinese-style infrastructure expansion without understanding that neither our demographics nor our administration are right for that. Most of all, we also need to ask as a monsoon-dependent, water-scarce economy as to how we are going to manage it all.
It seems that in order to serve the netas of Dilli and the barons of Mumbai, millions of people have to choke our cities. The time has come to consider the idea that economic growth is not everything and an urban crisis, lack of green spaces, water shortages, air pollution and civic infrastructure have to be considered upfront. They used to think of these things before what I call the Growth Monster was unleashed upon India.